Health Inspector says restrict, not ban plastic bags

Garbage bag. Isolated

Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph has said as of January 1 2016, the country will be placing a ban on the importation of plastic shopping bags, but the nation’s chief health inspector is warning that other debris pose more serious problems for the environment.

Lionel Michael, who appeared on Tuesday’s edition of OBSERVER AM said that while plastic bags are a major eyesore, they only make up a small percentage of the debris collected by the Central Board of Health (CBH).

“When you do litter picking at the sides of the roads throughout Antigua & Barbuda, the dominant litter is not the small shopping bags,” Michael said. “Those are way down the list. What we are concerned about is Styrofoam, plastic bottles, cups, glass bottles, paper and other forms of plastic.”

Despite his concern over this type of refuse, Michael said he would not advise a ban on Styrofoam and other such products.
“The word ban, for me, in environmental matters is something I don’t necessarily go along with all the time. You have to look at other ways of dealing with it. I believe in restricted use.”

He added that the plastic shopping bags in question often prove useful as low cost trash bags, and are actually more environmentally-friendly than traditional garbage bags.

“A high percent of Antiguans and Barbudans use those bags for storage of garbage from the kitchen or bathroom and the general household, particularly low income people. A lot of people don’t buy the garbage bags they sell out there, and as a matter of fact, those small plastic bags take a shorter time to decompose than the garbage bags.”

He said the quicker decomposition time was probably attributed to the smaller bags’ lower density and thickness.

In mid-August, minister of health Molwyn Joseph announced that as of January 1, 2016 the government would implement a ban on the importation of all plastic bags, except for those used for garbage collection and disposal, with a ban on the use of the bags to follow in June.

He indicated that his ministry is looking into the use of recyclable plastic bags as a replacement and residents are already being encouraged to invest in reusable tote bags for transporting groceries and other goods.

Meanwhile, Michael added that the National Solid Waste Management Authority should stick to garbage collection and other government mandated roles, in order to improve its efficiency.

He told OBSERVER media that the authority, which is charged with collection, treatment and disposal of solid waste, has been functioning inefficiently for years.

“To manage solid waste and to be involved in the reliable cost effective, collection system and storage system, especially at the sanitary landfill, we can’t say that we are managing that properly based on what we’ve seen at the landfill on several occasions, and we can’t say that we’re managing collection efficiently based on what we’ve seen at Solid Waste.”

He noted that the CBH and NSWMA have separate and distinct roles as denoted by government legislature.

“There are challenges within Solid Waste in fulfilling its own mandate, but yet they are involved in a lot of other things that’s not in the NSWMA functions; things such as cutting the sides of the roads, cleaning drains and so on. Those are functions that are laid down by law with CBH.”

“Solid Waste needs to concentrate on delivering solid waste management service in an efficient and effective manner to Antigua & Barbuda.”